In Memory: Joan Larsen

Dear Laurentian community,

I write with the sad news that Joan Larsen, the emerita head of reference and bibliographic instruction at Owen D. Young Library, has died.

Her family shared that Joan passed peacefully early in the morning on December 15 after a short battle with cancer. She was 82.

A lover of information and knowledge, Joan believed they were both instrumental in bringing people together. Throughout her career at St. Lawrence, she saw this happen—she made it happen—quite often. For Joan, learning was a path to celebrating difference. Not only did she find great joy and meaning in this work, it embodied her.

After earning her master’s degree in library science at SUNY Albany, Joan joined the ODY staff in 1977. Joan helped give shape to St. Lawrence’s Basic Academic Skills program. She was a key leader in developing the University’s renowned First-Year Program, which became a national model for engaging incoming students. Joan served multiple terms as a member of the University’s faculty council and was the coordinator of Jewish Student Life on campus for many years. Even after her retirement in 2011, she continued working part-time in this role through the spring of 2021.

Her lifelong passion for learning, for collaborative instruction and for the overall pursuit of knowledge was recognized in 2002 when Joan was awarded the University’s prestigious Louis and Frances Maslow Award, which honors a Laurentian’s interest in and understanding of the education and welfare of the student body as a whole.

She cared deeply about her Jewish heritage as well as the cultures of other groups that struggle against underrepresentation and discrimination. She passionately supported people of all backgrounds and lent her voice to the call for peace, justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Joan Audrey (Chaya Zelda) Bricker Larsen was born on Yom Kippur (September 22, 1939) in Bronx, New York. She studied biology, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, at City College of New York in 1960 and earned a master’s degree in biology at Stanford University in 1963.

In 1962, Joan married Ronald John Larsen in Palo Alto, California. She is survived by her husband of nearly 60 years as well as family across the country.

She was buried in the Jewish section of Rose Hill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, surrounded by family. Memorial contributions can be made in Joan’s name to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts (

As we remember our friend and colleague and grieve her loss, we honor Joan and the dedicated life she lived. With deep admiration, we are thankful for her long service to St. Lawrence and the generations of Laurentians she taught. May her memory be a blessing.

Longtime colleague and friend Bob Thacker, Charles A. Dana Professor of Canadian Studies and English Emeritus, had this to say about Joan, “For well over twenty-five years, Joan Larsen was among my closest friends and colleagues on the St. Lawrence faculty—the hallmark of our work together was the creation and development of the First-Year Program, most especially its research goals. There was almost nothing happening at the University that was not her concern. She cared deeply, completely, about this place and the role of knowledge here, for ourselves as a faculty and most absolutely for our students. Let one anecdote suffice: When it became clear in 2000 that Alice Munro would cooperate with me as her biographer (well before her 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature), my excellent friend Joan gave me typically sharp advice on this project, which she then aided in myriad ways: ‘Don’t screw it up, Bob.’ That verb was not the actual one, but Joan’s advice rang true in my ears throughout the whole time I worked and wrote. Joan Larsen always knew and asserted true, clear, and essential human values. We had no one else like her.”

Please join us in celebrating Joan’s life by sharing your memories of her on the St. Lawrence University website. You can read the remembrances of others here.


Kate Morris